Peak Scientific just announced their list of the best educational science toys to look for in 2012.

Educational and fun are two things which seem very easy for toy manufacturers to get wrong.

Too much emphasis on the educational and children don’t find the toy engaging, whilst the educational value of the toy can be quickly diminished from swinging too far the opposite way.

But fun and educational aren’t necessarily polar opposites and it is possible for toys to be in equal measures. The trick it seems is to find the point of fascination in a subject – the wow moment that comes from often simple toys giving children hands-on access to amazing discoveries.

Following are the 5 best educational science toys which we think achieve this across the fields of chemistry, physics, astronomy, electronics and life sciences, each toy subjected to the acid test of the fickle opinions of developing and inquisitive young minds. 

The Best Educational Science Toys: Chemistry

Toy Chemistry sets have been around since 1923, with the first commercial version made by the A.C. Gilbert Co. launching to immediate popularity and a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Understandable considering the access it gave to children to experiment with and learn about the fundamentals of chemical reactions.

Fundamental to an engaging chemistry set is guides to impressive, exciting and fun chemistry experiments. Things that go pop, change colour or make a nasty whiff are always going to amuse young children.

Considering their age it may seem a cop-out to include chemistry kits in this list but their continued value and popularity has resulted in a wide range of kits going beyond the classic chemistry lab to niche topics from explosive experiments to perfume laboratories.

Our Pick for Best Educational Science Toy is Galt Horrible Science Chemical Chaos – Bringing the Horrible Science brand of education hidden in child-friendly lunacy, this hits all the right notes with 10 focused projects that will not only amuse but also educate.

The Best Educational Science Toys: Physics

The range of physics toys is broad; physics with its direct connection to the physical world and its often surprising behaviour is a rich mine for making fun and exciting toys.

It would be tempting to pick something with plenty of whizz – a rocket kit or a toy car or a rocket propelled toy car kit. But to stand out in this category takes something exceptional. It needs to demonstrate principles of physics exceptionally well, be hands on and creative and fun and eye-opening.

Our Pick for Best Educational Science Toy is Polydron Bridges of the World – A truly brilliant new set from the excellent Polydron stable of educational construction kits, the Polydron Bridges of The World kit provides all the materials and instructions needed to not only build but also test 8 different types of bridges all based on real-world landmarks.

A genuinely engaging blend of maths, engineering, physics, history and scientific method.

The Best Educational Science Toys: Astronomy

When it comes to Astronomy it’s got to be a telescope. As a subject that deals mainly with objects hundreds of thousands of miles away, it’s all too easy to feel that it is science fiction and a good telescope brings the reality of space down to earth. 

The prices of telescopes has been dropping year on year meaning that for relatively little cost children can be exploring the moon, our nearest neighbours and even far-flung galaxies and nebulas up-close.

Our only advice is to not be tempted to go for the rock-bottom priced telescopes which will barely let you scratch the surface of the moon when for less than the price of a Wii you can get some serious scopes that amateur astronomers would be happy to include in their collection of lenses.

Our Pick for Best Educational Science Toy is Orion StarBlaster 4.5 Astro Telescope – At only 25 inches tall this is small enough to be handled by young children but is equipped with some impressive optics and it looks the business as well.  

The Best Educational Science Toys: Electronics

There’s always been a good range of electronics toys on the market. They usually tend to fall into one of two categories, however – simple, quick kits such as the potato clock or more advanced, complicated kits such as DIY transistor radios.

The problem with the simple kits is that they don’t explore the concepts of electronics in enough detail to be truly educational whilst the advanced kits are often too far beyond the grasp of understanding that children will at best follow the assembly instructions, installing resistors and capacitors at the points indicated, without really learning anything about electrical circuits.

Snap Circuits kits from Elenco bridge this gap. Easy to assemble but with lots of circuits based projects in each kit that really get kids on-board with learning the concepts behind electrical circuits.

Our pick for Best Educational Science Toy is Elenco Snap Circuits Green – Alternative Energy Kit – In terms of learning this is a great two-for-one. Not only does it teach kids about electricity and electrical circuits, through its 129 different projects it also demonstrates how electrical energy can be generated through a range of renewable energy sources.

This extra level of education actually makes the kit even more fun, as once the circuit is built it’s not simply a case of switching on the power and watching it work, there’s an extra level of interaction to feed power into the system via wind, water, solar power or good old hand cranking.

The Best Educational Science Toys: Life Sciences

Life Sciences are a natural attractor for young minds – icky, creepy-crawlies especially. Insect farms have been a firm favourite ever since glass jars gave young kids the opportunity to contain and observe beetles and tadpoles for science.

Ant farms, sea-monkeys and butterfly catching kits have been going strong for years but now a new challenger has entered the market thanks to clever robotics. Hexbugs have been growing in popularity and besides being fun little toys they also teach kids some important lessons about how minibeasts survive and react to their environment.

Simple robots that fit in the palm of your hand, the range of Hexbugs have all been designed to model not only the motion but survival behaviours inherent in insects, using sensors to find paths around obstacles, respond to danger and find dark places to hide. Fun to play with, the Hexbug website also hosts further learning material based around the minitoys.

Our Pick for Best Educational Science Toy is Hexbug Crab – These little guys will side-shuffle until they find a nice shaded area to hide under, fleeing from loud sounds and light. A great demonstration of how small animals will instinctively hunt out rocks and leaves to hide under to avoid predators. 

Thank you Peak Scientific for providing the list of Best Educational Science Toys.

Passionate about education at all levels, Peak Scientific are a company based in Scotland who manufacture gas generators for laboratories around the world, both in the private sector and schools and universities.

Pat WymanPat Wyman is the founder of and a best selling author.

She teaches at California State University, East Bay and is known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert. She helps children and adults solve learning problems with her Amazing Grades Study Skills System and is an expert in learning styles.

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